What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word, “Thanksgiving?” Turkey? Family? Pumpkin pie? Vacation? Pilgrims? Football? Lepers?
Wait a minute…lepers? Most of us probably don’t think of lepers when we think of Thanksgiving. But the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17 has a lot to teach us about Thanksgiving. What are we really giving thanks for on Thanksgiving? More importantly, who are we giving thanks to?
The Bible tells us in 1 Chronicles 16:34, to ““Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
I love this verse. It simply tells us to give thanks to God for His love lasts in eternity. How often do we stop on Thanksgiving and meditate on God’s enduring love? How do we give thanks to the One who has given us everything?
The story of the ten lepers speaks into the meaning of true thanksgiving. Luke 17:11-17 reads:
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Lepers were required to keep away from people in fear that others would catch their disease. The disease is quite terrible. They cannot feel anything. No pain, nothing. Because of this they get infections and injure themselves without knowing it. Then the infection spreads and they smell like rotting meat. They often lose finger arms feet and other body parts.
Lepers were outcasts. Their condition had made them unclean in the eyes of the public and the authorities. They were not allowed to join in with the rest of society. They had to avoid ANY contact with any other people. They could not touch anyone and no one dared to touch them. They could not touch anything that others would touch. And no one dared touch anything that belonged to them. They could not stay in the same place, they could not worship with others, they could not work, could not drink the same water, could not eat the same food. They were forced to live away from everyone else – completely isolated. They were rejected. Lepers were not allowed to mingle with the public in any way.
If the lepers had tried to approach Jesus there would have been a riot. Instead, they kept their distance and shouted all together as one voice “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” In this way, Jesus was drawn to them.
By what they had heard about Jesus, they knew that had the power to heal them.
Jesus healed them, but then Jesus did something that seems a little strange. He asked them to go to the Priests. Why? Because even though healed, people would want to have a public validation that they had been healed. Only the Priests could do that. Priests were the ones who could inspect a leper and say, “Yes, you are clean now, go free. You don’t have to remain an outcast anymore”. By this, Jesus not only healed the lepers, but also brought them back into fellowship with the community.
The big question is: why did only one leper come back and give thanks? After Jesus did this huge thing for them, wouldn’t you think more would come back to Jesus and “give thanks to the Lord for He is good?”
The truth is it’s easy for all of us to forget to give thanks to the Lord – on Thanksgiving Day and every other day. We get busy with work and friends and responsibilities and forget to give thanks. On thanksgiving – it is a whole day set aside to help us to remember to give thanks for all God has given us. We have a lot to be thankful for because God gave us EVERYTHING. When I think of all I have to be thankful for – it overwhelms me how much God has done for me.
The one leper who did come to give thanks can teach us a lot about how we do this. The Bible says he “praised God in a loud voice” and “threw himself and Jesus’ feet.” I encourage you and your family this Thanksgiving to consider what you are thankful for. Maybe make a list or go around at the dinner table and share. Then, spend some time praising God and falling at the feet of Jesus. Maybe you can spend some time in prayer, singing songs or journaling this Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, let’s be like the one leper who came back to Christ and gave thanks for all He had done.